Egerton University to lay off staff as cash crunch bites

Egerton University

Egerton University lecturers during their special Annual General Meeting at Nakuru Athletics Club on January 12, 2023. Financially-crippled Egerton University has announced plans to lay off hundreds of staff.

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

Financially-crippled Egerton University has announced plans to lay off hundreds of staff.

However, the university did not indicate when it will start sending the staff home.

The news has thrown the academic and non-academic staff at the Njoro-based campus into a panic mode.

Vice-Chancellor Isaac Ongubo Kibwage said the notice to retrench hundreds of workers issued last year was still valid.

“The notice of intention to declare redundancies is still active,” said Prof Kibwage in a statement posted on the university website yesterday.

Asked to shed light on the number of non-teaching and academic staff who will be sent home, the VC said: “That I cannot tell you. But it will be across all cadres. Once we identify the staff then I can be sure of the number. It will be a consultative exercise.”

Billions in debts

The university, once an agriculture teaching icon in the region, is reeling in debts amounting to more than Sh9 billion.

The University Academic Staff Union (Uasu) had sued the institution over pay arrears, with the court ordering the management to pay the lecturers their full salaries.

However, the university management defied the order and the VC and eight council members were each fined Sh100,000.

According to Prof Kibwage, the university payroll has 1,454 staff.

However, the VC has not indicated how many workers have left the university in the past five years.

The university has about 400 lecturers, with the rest comprising non-teaching staff.

Some of the lecturers claimed that since 2018, more than 500 workers have exited through natural attrition while others have left the institution due to salary frustrations. 

“About 500 staff have left, why then has the wage bill not been reduced? The VC should not hide behind the redundancy to settle scores with lecturers who have been pushing for the reinstatement of their salaries as ordered by the court,” said a senior lecturer.

Another professor added: “The VC should tell the public how many lecturers have exited in the past two years and what this means on quality of teaching, research and extension.”

The lecturers wondered why the university management was quick to declare redundancies although many of the frustrated staff have exited.

“The VC should be addressing the serious brain drain in the university instead of declaring redundancies while at the same time employing new lecturers behind the curtain,” said a lecturer, who did not want to be named.

He said some of the new teaching staff reported this month while others are yet to report.

Another lecturer wondered why the university has been claiming it has no money yet it was receiving capitation from the Exchequer.

“Has the university management board asked if some workers wish to voluntarily exit before issuing threats through retrenchment notice? Some of us are willing to leave this toxic working environment,” said the lecturer.

He went on: “Every public university gets 52 per cent capitation from the government. All public universities pay their staff full salaries and we wonder what is so special about Egerton.” 

The university wage bill is more than Sh200 million per month despite the institution slashing the staff salaries by 40 per cent in what it says is due to the “effects of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The latest Auditor-General report accuses the university management of withholding staff salaries. “The country has recovered from the pandemic, why is Egerton still slashing our salaries?” posed a don.